Holy Week was wonderful, as always–a pageant of backstory, flashback and foreshadowing, building tension, great poetry, strong and frequently conflicted characters, the Hero’s Journey.
An Orthodox Jew came to the Holy Saturday Vigil Liturgy, because a mutual friend of ours was being chrismated into the Orthodox (Christian) Church. That’s a good liturgy for a Jew to attend, because it pays homage to our Jewish roots. The 15 Old Testament readings address again and again the themes of life, death, resuscitation, resurrection, the Passover and the prophecies of the suffering and triumphant Messiah.
After the Liturgy, B. and I sat down to a glass of wine and raw fruit and vegies–where the Passover and the Holy Saturday fasts converged–and talked about all sorts of things. I was interested to learn that B. liked to attend an Oriental Orthodox church in our town. The members there are mostly Syrian and Lebanese, and he said he enjoys the Aramaic. He said his visits there worried his sister: what would the people say when they found out he was Jewish? (I wondered myself if they were nice to him.) He told her that they all know he’s Jewish, and they’re perfectly hospitable. Well, his sister asked, what if the priest found out? The priest knows, he said. “They’re Christians, and this is America, for God’s sake,” he kept saying.
It was surprising–not to say gratifying–to hear someone express that sort of positive impression of Christians, and it was only the second time in my experience. The first was in an elementary school classroom. The mother of one of my daughter’s classmates was from India. I don’t know how the conversation came up, but I mentioned church or something, and she said, “I like Christians.”
It was so odd I almost laughed, not at her and not at all derisively, but simply at the oddness of it. The oddness is not a matter of persecution–just the opposite. People in the United States generally talk about Christians the way they talk about their own family, with alternating affection and outrage. And even those who have turned away from the faith look back at us in anger and disappointment, because they feel offended and betrayed. Not to take issue with whether the feelings are justified or not, only to point out that it’s still a critique from within.
It’s always so complicated–hostility and loyalty, the earnest arguments about the direction we should be going, the hopes for what we’re trying to do and the fears about where we’re going wrong. And then you meet someone who can stand outside the maelstrom and say simply, “I like Christians,” or who can trust people who might elsewhere be an enemy because they’re Christians and because it’s America, for God’s sake. It’s an inestimable gift, and I’m grateful to both.